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Recipes for success

Thursday, September 14, 2017
T&T restaurateurs share

T&T Restaurant Week begins tomorrow.

In this week’s edition of Business and Money, reporters RAPHAEL JOHN-LALL, NADALEEN SINGH AND ANNA-LISA PAUL take an in-depth look at what makes the restaurant industry tick, and why some restaurants have remained successful in an industry notorious for failure. The following is a list of restaurants—and their owners—from across the country that have successfully managed to keep their doors open to the public for years.



Joe Brown, executive manager and chief chef at Jaffa Restaurant, shared by phone on Monday that the restaurant industry has a lot of potential.

He has been operating Jaffa for the last 10 years at the Oval and he offers an international menu.

Brown, who is originally from England, attributed his success to his many years in the restaurant industry.

“I am successful because I’m very good at what I do. I have worked all over the world. You name it and I can cook it.”

He also said that he uses local foods for all his dishes.

“I use a lot of local ingredients but in a very international manner. If I were to put a percentage on it I would say that my input is 65 per cent local and I import 35 per cent.”

Having been in the restaurant industry for 45 years and having worked all over the world, he advised new owners getting into the business to be “hands on.”

“The worst thing you can do is to leave it to other people. I am not just the owner of the business but also the executive chef. I am not an office chef and I still cook every day.”

He said the main challenge that restaurants in the industry face today is to find good quality employees to train properly.

“I train my own staff so I get exactly what I want. The other challenge is that we have little support from the Ministry of Tourism. If you own a hotel or a guest house and you refurbish, you are entitled to duty-free concessions. We restaurateurs who bring a lot more money than a small guesthouse get no concessions if we have to refurbish.”



Ricardo Peyrau, manager of More Vino Restaurant, Port-of-Spain, bases the restaurant’s success on excellent customer service and the country’s best fresh sushi and wines.

More Vino, opened in 2005, covers a wide range sushi, wine, spirits and cocktails.

He advises people who are now getting into the industry to main a high level of consistency, quality, good customer service and great taste.

Like his peers in the industry, he cites his challenges as finding good workers and, in his case specifically, consistent supplies from suppliers.

Finally, he said, they do their best to buy all ingredients locally.



Joseph Habr, director and chef of Joseph’s Restaurant based in Port-of-Spain, said he attributes his success to “constant attention” to customer service.

The menu covers food of Lebanese/Middle Eastern origin.

“In my opinion, constant attention to customer service is the most important attribute to our success. When I started in the hospitality industry way back in 1972, the first thing I was taught is “Eyes, Ears and Nose before Mouth”. Yes it is true that guests go out to eat good food. But your mind would play tricks on you if you start your experience with a rude server or in an unpleasant environment; as good as the food might actually taste, your night has already been soured (pun intended) by previous events.”

The advice he gave to newcomers to the restaurant industry is dedication and consistency.

“The industry is a very demanding field and there are too many people out there who want to see you fail. When I opened up Ali Baba in Royal Palm Plaza, many people were confused by our concept and very often I was asked the question: ‘you sure Trinis would like Arabic food?’ Twenty-six years later and endless taste tests in the kitchen, Joseph’s Restaurant is still serving a wide variety of mezza to Trinis.”

He also spoke about the challenges that they face in their industry, one of which is having the right employees.

“At the restaurant, we try for everyone to work as a team. Whether you work primarily, front of house or behind scenes, the words ‘that is not my work’ is frowned upon by management and fellow employees. Thankfully we have a core group of people who take pride in their work and are always willing to give a helping hand.”

The ingredients that he uses in his restaurant is a mix of foreign and local.

“Almost all our spices come from Lebanon. For all produce and herbs, we buy local whenever the quality is good. Produce that comes from away is picked at least one week in advance but the quality is generally consistent. Local produce, on the other hand, can be picked and delivered to you the same day.”




The Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant is a family-owned-and-operated enterprise which opened in March 1995 by David & Christopher on behalf of the Aleong Brothers Group. The restaurant has maintained a constant presence of a family member as hands-on manager. The main chefs are Aleong family relatives from Hong Kong and Guangzhou who ensure every dish is authentic. Many of these dishes are invented in honour of Nam Long, the village to which Kam Wah traces back its roots.

What do you attribute as the keys to your success in the restaurant business?

Clarity in my vision and commitment to my palate. I don’t focus on trends or “frou-frou” plating and techniques, but rather, I choose to respect ingredients that are fresh and flavourful and cook them—that’s what keeps my customers happy. We have been in business for more than 20 years.

What advice would you give someone contemplating opening a restaurant?

First of all, know that having a restaurant is a 24-hour, 365 day a year job ie it requires 100 per cent commitment which means you can’t just love eating food and entertaining people, you have to love every aspect of a restaurant wholeheartedly: from purchasing, maintenance, people skills, managing staff etc. Once you understand that, then my advice is: stay true to your style and don’t worry about the competition.

What are the challenges of operating a restaurant in the local environment today?

Getting workers with the right attitude/mindset to join the team.

What mix of imported and local goods do you use in your restaurant?

At one time, we were using 50 per cent local and 50 per cent foreign produce. Currently, we are changing the menu to include more local offerings and ingredients from other Caribbean neighbours. We feel very strongly about supporting our local purveyors.




Named after the giant leather-back turtles that nest nearby, La Tartaruga is one of Tobago’s premier Italian restaurant.

Owned by Gabriele De Gaetano and assisted by his daughter Francesca, they offer a choice of al-fresco dining which includes homemade pasta, fish and rock lobsters, in-house desserts and gelato. Asked to disclose how he has managed to remain in business for the past 25 years, De Gaetano responded.

What do you attribute as the keys to your success in the restaurant business?

Our key of success has been the very strong Italian family tradition of great cooking which was passed from my mother Rosanna and now to my daughter Francesca. Regular visits to the different regions of Italy improved our knowledge of Italian cuisine and we were able to bring the flavours to our customer’s tables in Tobago.

What advice would you give someone contemplating opening a restaurant?

Restaurant is not only cooking. It involves many tasks like customer service, listening to their requests and being able to successfully accomplish to their satisfaction in addition to all the other aspect of a business. My advice is to be able to have a very strong core of persons with whom you can achieve all of those tasks. It requires constant monitoring to deliver the quality.

What are the challenges of operating a restaurant in the local environment today?

The restaurant sector has not received the attention it deserves from the tourism sector. There has never been a good representation like for hotels and guest houses, to achieve much needed improvements. The challenge is that when you decide to open a restaurant you are on your own.

What mix of imported and local goods do you use in your restaurant?

Our kitchen uses local produce sourced from small farmers such as fish and lobsters. Tobago has a great blessing with the daily catch. We select great Italian condiments and of course the Italian wines which made our cellar a Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, every year since 2002. Our wines and products are very popular for home use.




What do you attribute as the keys to your success in the restaurant business?

Focusing on new innovative ideas that would generate revenue to keep the business going.

For instance, within the next two weeks we are opening a bakery in house and launching an authentic Thai menu.

We have managed over 30 years to keep our doors open by setting the bar for high standards and innovative ideas. With the use of various social media platforms, we have increased our awareness to more market segments nationwide.

What advice would you give someone who is opening a restaurant in a slow down?

Find your niche market and be different from the rest.

From there you grow step by step, ensuring you manage it yourself. Standing out from the rest.

The key to staying in business is to offer great service and quality food. Also, cleanliness is an important focal point of the business.

What are the challenges of operating a restaurant in the local environment today?

The availability of labour is an issue which has led us to bring in foreign workers.

Also. the spiralling crime rate in conjunction with an economic slowdown, as well as the shortage of foreign exchange to make purchases overseas.

Since our upgrade in 2014, we have managed to diversify into different sectors thereby increasing revenue.

What mix of imported and local goods do you use in your restaurant?

Goods from local suppliers at a premium cost.

The shortage of foreign exchange has made it difficult to obtain new equipment and furniture.




What do you attribute as the keys to your success in the restaurant business?

The staff. If you don’t have good staff you would not make a good business. The kitchen and floor staff are vital to the success of my business.

What advice would you give someone contemplating opening a restaurant?

Achong’s advice: don’t open a restaurant now.

What are the challenges of operating a restaurant in the local environment?

It has been tough but the restaurant is surviving. Definitely it has slowed down, I would say about a 30 per cent reduction. We have had no difficulty, all the suppliers are understanding about the slow down in T&T.

Crime has resulted in people attending events earlier so they can get home earlier. My family and I go out at five o’ clock but reach home by nine in the night not because of the economy but because of the crime situation in T&T.

What mix of local goods do you use in your restaurant?

My menu only has local ingredients and I don’t import any ingredients.




Operating at its present location, Independence Avenue, San Fernando, for close to 30 years, Pagoda can be best described as a family restaurant.

Manager Selwyn Niamath said although they have experienced a decline in business generally during the past 18 months, they have witnessed a further drop in sales since the start of the year.

However, he is optimistic their quality service, great food and attractive prices will sustain them during these trying times as he said persons come from far and wide to sample their famous steamed fish.

Heartened to see youngsters who first came to Pagoda years ago with their parents, now patronising the restaurant along with their own children, Niamath believes the taste of “fast food” has lured customers away.

Refusing to let these challenges impact them, Niamath vowed their culinary standards would be maintained.

His answers to the questions are as follows.

What do you attribute as the keys to your success in the restaurant business?

Good service and attractive prices.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating opening a restaurant?

They have got to put their heads down, prepare for long hours and devote yourself to that restaurant. In our business, we are up early to go to the market and if customers are late at night, you have to be prepared to stay with them. This is what we have been doing for years and I believe it is what has sustained us through that time.

What are the challenges of operating a restaurant in the local environment today?

The main thing is to get proper and reliable staff. We have managed to keep our staff consistent as some of our servers have been with us for over 20 years and our cook has been with us for close to 24 years.

We bend over backwards to ensure they are good and comfortable, and we also pay above the norm to ensure their dedication and commitment.

What mix of imported and local goods do you use in your restaurant?

We do about 60 per cent local and 40 per cent foreign. Our vegetable produce comes fresh from the market every Tuesday and Friday, while we buy our pork from Erin Farms and our catch of the day comes from the local fishermen who offer us the best they have. Our liquors are imported from abroad.


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